REVIEW: Saki Mafundikwa

Saki Mafundikwa at TED talks February 2013

As a part of the Penny Stamps Speaker Series, this past Thursday featured Saki Mafundikwa.  Mafundikwa, originally from Zimbabwe, came to the U.S. to study and after establishing himself as a graphic designer, he returned to his home country of Zimbabwe to create the Zimbabwe Institute of Vigital Arts (ZIVA).

The talk began as an introduction of his own personal history and proceeded to discuss his journey to becoming a graphic designer.  He used to draw while he was younger, helping his mother with embroidery designs and assisting his father with the mechanical aspects of his watch repair business.  After seeking asylum from Zimbabwe during the rough political years, he received the opportunity to study in the U.S. during the early 80s.  During his time as an undergrad he found himself creating covers for campus journals and designing texts and typography for those who request it of him.  He also talked about how this hobby was fleshed out from taking drawing classes.  From life drawing, to still life, to practicing self-portraits, Saki emphasized the impact that repeated drawing and practice of making forms was important to his growth in the graphic design world.  He was accepted into the MFA program at Yale and continued to take electives in drawing while focusing on graphic design.  During his interview for the MFA program, he was asked if he had ever investigated African alphabets.  Saki realized that no, he had not.  He had only known the Latin-alphabet of his language.  This question lead to the direction and development of his studies in graduate school.  He focused on studying different African alphabets and what the symbols represented.  Not only did this process result in a thesis, but it also lead to his desire to write a book on African alphabets later on.

After graduating with an MFA from Yale, Saki began working as both a freelance graphic designer as well as for Random House designing book covers.  He found that he was often being called upon to design covers for books on African Americans.  While he enjoyed the work, it also made him question his relationship with his home country of Africa and what that meant to him now that he had spent so much time in America.  After taking up teaching positions at different Universities, Saki made the move to Zimbabwe to establish what he found his calling to be, creating a school of graphic design.  He wanted to bring the opportunity to people who had talent but did not have the money or other means to attend art school.  Saki has since successfully established a small school of graphic design students, with some of his alumni going on to graduate school in the United States as well, even his alma mater.  I think the most rewarding part of hearing his story was how he was bringing skills and the necessary education to his home country and how he was the cause of enabling more success stories such as his own in others.

Link to Saki’s TED talk: